Russia ‘deploying shadowy mercenary group’ to Ukraine

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A private Russian military contractor that has been accused of human rights abuses has been deployed to Eastern Ukraine,according to the UK Defence Ministry.

The ministry’s Defence Intelligence update said today the Wagner Group was expected to bring up to 1000 mercenaries to take part in combat operations in Ukraine after the regular Russian military experienced heavy losses.

The British defence attached to the US, Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath, said in a statement that Russia has likely been forced to reprioritise Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of its operations in Africa and Syria.

Air Vice-Marshal Smeath’s statement comes after Pentagon officials said recently that they expected Russia to look for ways to replace their combat losses with Russian troops based in other countries.

Last Friday, the Pentagon said it appeared Moscow was drawing on Russian troops based in Georgia, but no details were available on their number or the timing of their expected deployment.

Thousands of mercenaries from Wagner Group have been deployed in Syria since 2015.

The US and EU consider the group to be a surrogate of the Russian military, but the Kremlin denies it even exists.

In December, the EU imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group and its founder, Dmitry Utkin, a confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin, for fomenting violence and committing human rights abuses in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine.

EU headquarters said then in a statement that the Wagner Group had “recruited, trained and sent private military operatives to conflict zones around the world to fuel violence, loot natural resources and intimidate civilians in violation of international law, including international human rights law”.

Both Russia and Ukraine have enlisted foreign fighters and paid mercenaries in their ranks since the Kremlin launched its invasion on February 24.

Mr Putin has approved bringing in volunteer fighters from the Middle East, particularly Syria, to bolster Russia’s stalled invasion.

And the Ukrainian government said about 20,000 foreigners from various nations have already joined the so-called International Legion for the Territorial Defence of Ukraine, most of them from Western countries.

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